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Carlsen On Lack Of Motivation, Classical Chess, New WC Formats & Family Life
Magnus Carlsen at the main event in EPT Monte Carlo, Monaco. Photo: Pokerstars.

Carlsen On Lack Of Motivation, Classical Chess, New WC Formats & Family Life

TarjeiJS
| 242 | Chess.com News

Sunday marked the end of the era of GM Magnus Carlsen's reign as world champion after nine years, five months, and eight days. GM Ding Liren wrote history as the first-ever FIDE world champion from China (there have been several FIDE women's world champions from China). Ding defeated GM Ian Nepomniachtchi 2.5-1.5 in a thrilling rapid playoff after the first 14 classical games ended in a drawn 7-7 score. 

In an appearance last week on the Norwegian chess podcast Sjakksnakk, run by his friends Askild Bryn and Odin Blikra Vea, Carlsen shared his thoughts on the match, which was covered in Chess.com's previous article on the podcast.

Carlsen said he could not discuss the GM Hans Niemann case, which is still ongoing, but he had plenty more to say during the session that lasted almost an hour. He answered questions in his native language about his motivation, his preference for speed chess over classical, his personal life, and his thoughts on the most promising young talents.

Classical Chess And Preparation

The former world champion was asked how his identity would change as he no longer holds the most prestigious title in chess.

"I feel that identity has changed already. I have mentally been out of the world championship for quite some time. There was a period after the match against Nepo that I was sure would be my last. The number-one spot on the world rankings has been important for me for quite a few years, but now I feel like I just don't play much classical chess, so its significance changes. I know that when I decide to play classical in the first place, I usually perform on a decent level, but I play so rarely that I've become a bit rusty," he said.

"Right now I have no idea how good I am at classical chess. That will be exciting to test out again."

Carlsen has just two more classical events scheduled this year: Norway Chess (May 29-June 9), where he is scheduled to go head-to-head with GM Hikaru Nakamura, and the Qatar Masters (October 10-20), where he gets a chance to defend his title from 2015.

It also wouldn't be a big surprise if he plays for the Offerspill Chess Club in the European Club Cup in the first week of October, but with just 15 classical games played so far, 2023 looks set to become one of Carlsen's least active years, excluding rapid and blitz events.

Magnus Carlsen lost to Anish Giri, who went on to win in Tata Steel Chess this year. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Tata Steel Chess

Carlsen says that he has already started putting less priority on classical, giving some interesting insight as to why.

"Based on my experience in my last tournament in Wijk aan Zee, I feel like it's interesting on a purely intellectual level to play classical chess. It's nice to have time to think for a while and figure things out, but I am quite fed up with all the preparation. It's frustrating to come up with new ideas every time in order to get a game at all. If it hadn't been for that, classical might have been my favorite out of all tournament chess. As it is now, it's just too frustrating."

He added:

"It used to be much easier, but now it has become much more difficult because people have found more or less forced lines in most openings. Even in the London System, you need a lot of preparation to play now. It used to be a line I played in classical if I didn't want to prepare or if nothing else worked—I thought I always had the London as a backup. Now you can't do that anymore."

The gap down to world number-two Nepomniachtchi on the FIDE rankings remains as high as 59 points, but Carlsen admits he currently doesn't consider the position as important.

"I will definitely try to remain number one, with a decent margin. But when I play so few events, I don't feel it's as important. It's not top of mind most of the time."

Magnus Carlsen celebrating his victory in the 2021 FIDE World Championship match, one that would be his last. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com
Magnus Carlsen celebrating his victory in the 2021 FIDE World Championship match, one that would be his last. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com

He talked about how he hasn't really been motivated to play classical chess since 2019 when he scored some of the best results of his career and won every tournament he took part in.

"I had some preparation from my match in 2018 that worked very well, but none of that stuff is relevant anymore because people mostly play other variations that are much more forcing, and nothing can be done. Everything that helped me back then is more or less useless now. I think it's going to be more difficult."

Carlsen has dominated the world of chess for more than a decade, having won 15 world championship titles and more super-tournaments than any other player in history.

Game 6 In Dubai

The breakthrough in his 2021 world championship match against Nepomniachtchi came in the sixth game, which became the longest in the history of FIDE world championship matches, lasting 136 moves and almost eight hours of play. 

Magnus Carlsen won the sixth game against Ian Nepomniachtchi after almost 8 hours of play and 136 moves. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com
Magnus Carlsen won the sixth game against Ian Nepomniachtchi after almost eight hours of play and 136 moves. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com

"I remember that I didn't feel particularly well physically. I felt that I lacked energy, especially after the sixth game that lasted so long."

Carlsen says winning that game made him completely sure about winning the match.

"I think he suffered even more. That game in itself is worth a book. So many strange things happened. What I am most pleased about is that I remained calm the last hour and a half when I didn't have much time, and it helped that there wasn't much risk for me then. I stayed calm, looked for chances, and didn't panic at any point. After the game, there was a lot of adrenalin, and I thought, 'Sure, I could play more.' I got tired eventually, but this is how I feel that matches should go, that it should be even and difficult to break through.

"I think the football analogy is actually quite good. It's easier in football to defend, or to 'park the bus.' You don't succeed every time at all, but it is clearly the easiest. You don't need even close to the same set of skills to park the bus than to try to break down your opponent. It's the same here, to try to be destructive rather than to try to create chances.

"But, if either one of the teams takes the lead, you see that a match that is even is no longer even. If he had taken the lead, he would still have had a really good chance to win, but it would have been something completely different. If I take the lead, I'll probably win, but if he takes the lead, it's not clear who wins anymore. I think that's the biggest difference."

Motivation

He also talked about how his motivation changed and about giving up on the "impossible" 2900-rating target—his ambitious goal announced along with the abdication of his title.

"I feel like my motivation goes up and down and I am actually playing mostly for fun. I don't have any big ambitions that I want to achieve. I have given up a bit on trying to reach 2900. It will just be very, very difficult."

"I want to enjoy playing chess, but how seriously I will take each tournament will differ. Sometimes I think it doesn't matter much."

Calrsen's last tournament was the Chessable Masters, where he was eliminated by Nakamura.

He said:

"The last tournament I played I was in France, and I enjoyed spending time with family and being in the hills. But I thought I wouldn't sacrifice time with my family to try to be as well-prepared as possible. I would just show up and try to do as well as I could, but that was it. In other tournaments, I may feel like I really want to try to win. That's how it's been for a few years; it tends to change. It's not necessarily in the biggest tournaments that my motivation is the highest, but that's fine. Normally I still think it's really fun to play chess. Especially when it's more casual, but for tournaments it's more up and down."

New World Championship Formats

When the Norwegian grandmaster announced the abdication of his title, he expressed his displeasure with the format of the world championship cycle, a never-ending debate in the chess world. Carlsen was asked whether a different format would've changed his decision.

"It's clear that the motivation depends on what you think is interesting or not. I have never favored the current format with matches in classical chess, especially such a short match. I was positive when they increased the number from 12 to 14 games; it makes it less random, and also that they reduced the number of rest days. Now they have increased it again, no idea why they did that. I guess to give them more rest, but that also gives teams more time to work and to fill gaps, so that makes it even harder to prove that you are any better."

"I have never been a fan of the world championship, and I have said in part publicly but also privately, both before and after every match, that I don't know whether I will play this time or the next. I felt that I played because others expected me to, rather than wanting to do it myself. I was motivated in 2013 for the first time in order to test myself in the Candidates tournament, but that was more because of the thought of trying to become world champion once. It was fun, but it was not like I wanted to keep the title."

He also revealed a story behind his celebration after his victory in the 2014 World Championship match against GM Viswanathan Anand in Sochi.

"I had a post on social media back in 2014 with "Two down, five to go" but that was intended just to troll people a bit."

Carlsen has a few ideas on which formats would increase the chances of him returning to the cycle.

"The most obvious is one FIDE also suggested, to have two games per day with a shorter time control. You'll get more games and a shorter time control, which means the importance of preparation is reduced and you'll get more decisive games."

He suggests a time control of 60 minutes, or 45 minutes with 15 seconds increment added per move. He also likes the format used in the Champions Chess Tour with four-game matches.

When asked whether we could be seeing him playing in the Candidates again, Carlsen said:

"With the current format, the chances are very slim. If the format changes, maybe. But the chance of me playing in the next Candidates tournament is less than one percent."

Accuses FIDE of Leaks

Carlsen described the discussions that took place with President of FIDE Arkady Dvorkovich and its CEO Emil Sutovsky, during the Candidates tournament in 2022.

"There was a meeting in Madrid with some people in the FIDE leadership. They wanted to discuss new formats, but nothing more came out of it. Partly because they leaked things from the meeting that I wasn't happy with—in addition, it was wrong info. So the only thing I did was to postpone my decision. But there were no discussions. They presented some other formats, which could've been interesting, but there was no real dialogue."

Carlsen did not elaborate on what he considers a "leak." FIDE's Chief of Press David Llada confirms to Chess.com that Dvorkovich and Sutovsky were present in the meeting but denies any claims of leaks: "The info that was shared from FIDE was transparently conveyed by Emil Sutovsky when he made an appearance as a guest on the official broadcast of the Candidates," he said. "I can confirm there was no other comment on this topic from FIDE officers to members of the media."

Among all formats, Carlsen says he's liked playing blitz the most, even though he experimented with 30-second bullet, which he quit playing pretty quickly.

"In regards to the more traditional formats, the ones you play professionally and in less casual settings, I feel like rapid is the most difficult. I won't say I like it the least, but it's the most challenging as it's a difficult hybrid between classical and blitz."

Impressed By Prodigies

The 32-year-old also used some time to talk about a few of the world's most promising talents, which he eagerly follows. One of them is GM Gukesh D, who, at 16 years old, is already ranked number 18 in the world.

Magnus Carlsen drew Gukesh in the Tata Steel Chess earlier this year. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Tata Steel Chess
Magnus Carlsen drew Gukesh in the Tata Steel Chess earlier this year. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Tata Steel Chess

"I analyzed a bit with Gukesh after playing against him, which is not something I usually do. You exchange a few words, but it hasn't been common for some time, but he asked me. There were also a couple of other players with whom I analyzed games in the Netherlands. I wouldn't normally suggest it, but if the young guys want to have a look, I feel like maybe I could learn something, they could learn something, so it could be nice."

"It was interesting to see how he calculated variations compared to myself. It was like, 'That line was impressive. I hadn't seen that at all!' I experienced that with Praggnanandhaa as well. There's a lot I don't see."

Carlsen is particularly impressed by the 2021 world rapid chess champion, 18-year-old GM Nodirbek Abdusattorov from Uzbekistan, currently the world number-17.

Nodirbek Abdusattorov sensationally became World Rapid Champion in 2021. Magnus Carlsen was one of his victims along the way. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com
Nodirbek Abdusattorov sensationally became World Rapid Champion in 2021. Magnus Carlsen was one of his victims along the way. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com

"It's not clear which one of these will actually break through and become one of the greats. I don't know if Abdusattorov is the most talented among them. I actually think not, but he is definitely the one with the most sportive qualities. It's extremely impressive, both his concentration and discipline. He's also someone who takes his chances. He tends to end up in somewhat difficult positions, but you can be sure he will defend very well. I've heard people staying in the same hotel as him, and he's apparently a machine on the treadmill and with weights. He's a true sports athlete who has huge potential."

"Then you have Alireza Firouzja, who likes to do other things as well, but he's the biggest talent among them all."

Future

The 32-year-old became an uncle for the first time 2.5 years ago, and his sister Ellen gave birth to her second child last December. He says he would love to have a family of his own in the future.

"I don't feel any pressure, but it's definitely something I want, if not right now, at some point. I think it's incredibly nice to be an uncle and also have friends who become parents. To score some adult points, pretty much!"

And the Hollywood star he was hanging out with? Two-time Academy Award nominee Edward Norton.

Magnus Carlsen does not consider himself a serious poker player, but is currently taking part in the EPT in Monte Carlo. Photo: Pokerstars
Magnus Carlsen was knocked out of the main event in EPT Monte Carlo on Day 1. Photo: Pokerstars.

"I have been on vacation with him and hung out with him and his family. He is a nice guy. He invited me for movie night every evening, where he chose the movies. It was interesting."

On Monday, Carlsen jumped on a plane to join the European Poker Tour in Monaco, where he is playing in the main event. That comes just two weeks after he played in a celebrity poker event in Los Angeles. For now, Carlsen's chess fans won't have to worry that he is serious about the game.

"It annoys me a bit when people ask me whether I am serious with poker. No, I've never done that. I've always liked playing poker, and never been particularly good or had ambitions in it. That hasn't changed at all."

Carlsen will next be in action at the chess board in the Superbet Warsaw Rapid & Blitz, starting May 21 until May 25. That event should excite chess fans as it will be the first meeting with the new world champion, Ding.

TarjeiJS
Tarjei J. Svensen

I am a chess journalist on Chess.com, the site you are playing on. Hope you enjoy my stories. Let me know if you have any tips on what I should write about!

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